BoCC Discuss Reopening County
The Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) for Lee County met in open session on Tuesday morning, April 21, with a surprising number of citizens present despite the Countywide “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. The BoCC unanimously voted to reopen the walking, biking and horse trails in the ten Lee County General Parks and thirteen Conservation 20/20 Preserves but NOT the county-owned Fort Myers Beach park sites that are Crescent Beach Family Park, Lynn Hall Memorial Park and Bowditch Point Park. Other than walking, biking and horse trails, Lee County continues to close all other amenities, such as restrooms and playgrounds, and all park visitors must maintain stringent Center for Disease Control (CDC) and COVID-19 restrictions, such as 6-foot social distancing and no groups larger than 10 people.
BoCC Chair Brian Hamman, in calling the meeting to order at 9:30 a.m., stated that “Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais and I have been asked to join the Task Force conference call organized by Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss how to reopen the state at 10 a.m., so we will leave this meeting at that time for that.” Hamman then asked Desjarlais for a brief Lee County COVID-19 update.
“The short version is the time to begin reopening County services and some properties for recreational activities is right, so we would like to reopen hiking trails in our Conservation 20/20 properties and all County-owned general parks tomorrow, on April 22, with the exception of Lakes Park. When we reopen trails, we encourage social distancing and CDC guidelines. We want to reopen these to stay consistent with Charlotte and Collier Counties that both have their trails open. We are following COVID-19 data and are having discussions with Lee Health and the Governor’s Office, and feel this is the time for a serious conversation about opening and lifting the restrictions, but stress that this does not include the beach parks. In the not-to-distant future we will discuss lifting restrictions on businesses as well. Lee County residents have stayed home for 6 weeks now and the public is responding very well to the ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order, with compliance rates of 50 to 55 percent.”
Hamman reiterated, “Staff recommends reopening walking trails in Lee County parks and preserves only, but playgrounds, restrooms and pavilions remain closed – is that correct?” Lee County Assistant Manager Dave Harner replied, “This includes not only hiking and biking trails but horse riding trails in our ten general parks and thirteen Conservation 20/20 Preserves.” Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass stated, “We will review Lakes Park daily and weekly,” with Harner emphasizing, “Our recommendation does not include the large parks around recreation centers.”
“Not The Beach Parks!”
Desjarlais added, “We continue to monitor the data, CDC guidelines, President Trump’s ‘Reopen America Again’ documents and the Governor’s Task Force that is meeting twice-a-day every day this week, with those recommendations out this Friday, so we will have conversations by the end of the week to prepare to make those decisions.”
Commissioner Frank Mann said, “There is an opportunity here for misunderstanding so I would appreciate your clarification. Visitors to the parks and preserves will be bound by the strict rules of the CDC as far as crowd gatherings and being 6 feet apart and everything else this community has come to love and abide by!” Desjarlais replied, “We will have all park rangers out to monitor appropriate behavior.” Hamman reinforced again, “This is not the beach parks!”
Pendergrass asked if the motion includes opening the restrooms and dog parks, and pointed out that Lee County does not have jurisdiction over Centennial Park that the City of Fort Myers owns. “This does not include restrooms,” Desjarlais replied, “as it would be impossible for us to clean them properly after every single person, but have port-a-potties and sanitation stations by the restrooms that vendors clean twice daily.”
County Commissioners voted unanimously to reopen hiking and horse trails in the ten Lee County general parks and thirteen Conservation 20/20 Preserves beginning Wednesday, April 22, with all CDC social distancing guidelines in place. Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch then requested and the BoCC unanimously approved extending of the Countywide Local State of Emergency for an additional seven days. “We are getting a ton of email from folks to reopen everything,” concluded Hamman, “and we hear you and want to reopen everything as well, but must do it in a phased and safe way. That is what the Governor’s Task Force wants, so I am going to the conference call and give them your input.”
TPI-FMB Pedestrian Bridge Approval
Following Hamman’s exit, the BoCC approved without comment by a 4 – 0 vote their 30-item Consent Agenda that featured three topics pertinent to Fort Myers Beach.
Item #27 was “Execute Agreement for a Pedestrian Bridge Over Estero Boulevard.” The BoCC authorized an elevated pedestrian bridge license, construction, maintenance and hold harmless agreement with TPI-FMB for a pedestrian bridge over Estero Boulevard as part of the Margaritaville FMB project. TPI-FMB is responsible for the construction, maintenance and liability of a pedestrian bridge to provide a safe pedestrian crossing just north of Crescent Street. On May 21, 2018, the Town of Fort Myers Beach adopted an Ordinance approving rezoning for the TPI-FMB Resort and pedestrian bridge terms.
Items #24 was “Award Contract for Maintenance & Repairs to Bridges in Lee County” in the amount of $530,000 for five bridge renovation projects, including deck repairs to the Big Carlos Pass Bridge and a seawall for the Little Carlos Pass Bridge. Item #26 was to “Approve Supplemental Task Authorization for Estero Boulevard Public Information Consultant” to Cella Molnar & Associates for public information for the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects through Segment 6 for $632,467.
Hosafros to TDC Board
Later in the meeting, the BoCC voted 4 – 0 to confirm Fort Myers Beach Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros to the Tourist Development Council.